Stephen Luoni will present a lecture at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, in Ken and Linda Sue Shollmier Hall, Room 250 of Vol Walker Hall, on the University of Arkansas campus, as part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design lecture series.

Luoni is the director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center. He is also the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies and a Distinguished Professor of architecture in the Fay Jones School. 

During his lecture, "Reinventing the Commons," Luoni will develop an overall approach to public-interest design and its role in producing public goods — the very definition of what it means to be a profession. He will focus on formulation of the placemaking platforms and design projects demonstrating these platforms.

Architects are asked to solve for complex public-interest problems, or "wicked problems," with many variables of challenges characterized by social complexity. The development of approaches with many scales as well as formal vocabularies are intrinsic to addressing this class of design problems.

The U of A Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School, with work that specializes in interdisciplinary public-interest design, combining ecological, urban and architectural design. As a teaching office with professional staff, it has developed the building blocks for a new ecology of the city. This repertoire of placemaking platforms triangulates public policy, best practices and design in the areas of agricultural urbanism, missing middle-scale housing, context-sensitive street design, transit-oriented development, watershed urbanism and ecologically-based urban stormwater management.

The Community Design Center is one of a few university-based teaching offices in the United States dedicated to delivering urban design work. The center's focus on expansive problem-solving through new design tools and pattern languages address the public good and the role of community design centers in addressing the grand challenges that enlarge the design professions.

Under his direction since 2003, the center's work has received more than 150 awards for urban design, research and education, including Progressive Architecture Awards, American Institute of Architects Honors Awards for Regional and Urban Design, Charter Awards from the Congress for the New Urbanism, American Society of Landscape Architecture Awards, Environmental Design Research Association Awards, American Architecture Awards and the international LafargeHolcim Awards.

Luoni directed production of the center's books: Houses for Aging Socially, Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan and Low Impact Development: A Design Manual for Urban Areas, which has been translated into Chinese.

His work has been published in Architectural Record, Landscape Architecture, Progressive Architecture, Architect, Places Journal and international journals. He was named a 2012 United States Artists Ford Fellow.

Luoni received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from The Ohio State University and a Master of Architecture from Yale University.

The school is pursuing continuing education credits for this lecture through the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The public is invited to attend. Admission is free, with limited seating.

For more information, contact 479-575-4704 or

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center and its collaborators have received recognition for several projects in The PLAN Awards 2019, an international design awards program sponsored by The Plan magazine.

The Greers Ferry Water Garden master plan, designed by the center with Marlon Blackwell Architects and Ecological Design Group, won the Landscape category for future projects.

Three other center projects were finalists in the Urban Planning category for future projects: the Whitmore Community Food Hub Complex in Hawaii, designed in collaboration with the U of A Resiliency Center; the New Beginnings Homeless Transition Village commissioned by Serve Northwest Arkansas; and The Wharf at Pine Bluff for Go Forward Pine Bluff.

The awards program highlights projects in urban design and planning, landscape architecture, architecture, interior design, product design and transportation engineering. Winners and finalists in 21 categories were chosen from more than 750 submissions in the 2019 competition.

"Our center's mission to promote creative development of place through combined research, design and education solutions is a niche approach in urban and community design and is being recognized as such," said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. "Because of our institutional strengths and partners, we can formulate robust design solutions addressing health, resiliency and equity in shaping cities. We are on par with some of global design industry's largest firms in addressing challenges in the built environment."  

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies at the university.

"Greers Ferry Water Garden" updates and completes a project conceived in the 1960s by Edward Durell Stone, an internationally renowned architect and a native of Arkansas. Stone designed a public water garden at Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs, drawing on ancient Roman and Persian hydraulics for inspiration.

The Community Design Center and its collaborators refreshed Stone's design with greater ecological considerations and a contemporary visitor-centered approach. They shifted Stone's reliance on classical models to include terrain that reflects the Arkansas Ozarks. The plan pairs the dam as hard infrastructure and the water garden as soft infrastructure, offering a new environmental model for park design.

Water captured by the dam is recycled through the 269-acre water garden to grow new life and create higher-order niche ecologies. Such complex transformations are the key to building sustainable and resilient communities, Luoni said. The project received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the state of Arkansas and the Entergy Foundation.

"Whitmore Community Food Complex: Building Community Around Food" was commissioned by the state of Hawaii to address the problems of food production, processing and distribution on the island chain. The project revolves around a community-based food hub on a former Dole plantation on Oahu. The food hub connects local growers with wholesale consumers while also serving as a cultural destination, connecting visitors with the island's agricultural legacies.

The master plan calls for agricultural workforce housing, local business incubation, retail outlets and cultural tourism, along with the logistics needed to run the food hub. A public concourse features a wetland garden, a demonstration taro garden and a food forest based on permaculture farming principles. The concourse and bridge connect the complex to the nearby town of Wahiawa across a 300-foot ravine.

The project was funded by the Agribusiness Development Corporation of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

"New Beginnings Homeless Transition Village: A Permittable Settlement Pattern" provides a prototype for a shelter-first response to the problem of homelessness. The project reconciles gaps between informal building practices and formal regulations, making interim solutions ecologically sustainable and able to be permitted under city codes.

The design combines individual weatherized sleeping units, a secure perimeter and a 150-foot-long "community porch" for shared services such as cooking, bathing, sanitation, gathering space and social work offices. The components of the village are designed for disassembly and reuse, avoiding the discard of material in a landfill. On-site construction is limited to wet assembly and site preparation for water supply, waste disposal, foundations and stormwater management. 

The project was granted a five-year conditional approval by the city of Fayetteville, with a formal groundbreaking on the site of a former tent city on April 12.

"The Wharf at Pine Bluff: Re-Stitching City and Water" reconnects downtown Pine Bluff to its lakefront area through a bridge and wharf complex that integrates existing infrastructure with interconnected loops to eliminate the conventional cul-de-sac experience of piers. New attractions include a floating lawn, a boathouse, a beach with kayak and paddleboat launch, a boardwalk, several pavilions for retail and food vendors, and a Ferris wheel.

The project is part of a larger effort to revitalize the city by reinvesting in its downtown through the development of attainable housing and allied public works projects. This will support the renewal of an urban living option in the Arkansas Delta, Luoni said. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center and its collaborators have been recognized by three prestigious awards programs for a project addressing social and ecological sustainability in a homeless transition village in Fayetteville.

"New Beginnings Homeless Transition Village: A Permittable Settlement Pattern" was named a 2019 Green GOOD DESIGN by The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design. The Green GOOD DESIGN program identifies the world's most important examples of sustainable design and highlights the global companies working toward sustainability.

The project also received the 2019 Great Places Award in the Place Planning category from the Environmental Design Research Association. Association awards recognize the intersection between research, environmental behavior studies and design in creating great places.

The project received recognition in The PLAN Awards 2019, an international design awards program sponsored by The Plan magazine. The project was named a finalist in the Urban Planning Future category, along with two other Community Design Center projects. Another of the center's projects was named winner of the Landscape Future category.

"New Beginnings is both a shelter-first solution for replacing and upgrading a tent city in Fayetteville and a prototype for codifying best design practices for application in other communities," said Stephen Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. The center is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

"The financialization of urban housing where housing has essentially become an investment tool has created multi-dimensional social problems, including the disappearance of entire classes of housing that serve low-income and extreme low-income populations," he said. "Advanced economies are seeing the rise of the informal sector in providing solutions to problems unaddressed by markets and the regulatory sector."

The New Beginnings prototype is distinguished by its combined use of aesthetic, technological and social practices, Luoni said. The result is a cost-effective intervention that reconciles informal and formal sectors to reverse the rising rate of homelessness.

"The project reconciles gaps between informal building practices and formal regulations, making interim solutions ecologically sustainable and able to be permitted under city codes," he said.

New Beginnings was commissioned by Serve Northwest Arkansas, a regional group working to address homelessness and poverty through a shelter-first approach. Kevin Fitzpatrick, University Professor and Jones Chair in Community in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, served as client and programing consultant for the project.

Other team members include Steve L. Marshall, of The Marshall Group of NWA (construction management); John Langham, AIA, LEED AP, of WER Architects/Planners (architect of record); Leslie Tabor (landscape architect); Neal Morrison, PE, of Morrison-Shipley Engineers, Inc. (civil engineer); Richard M. Welcher, P.E., of Tatum-Smith Engineers, Inc. (structural engineer); and Omni Engineers (MEP engineer).

Twenty single homeless people will live in the village for six-month terms, receiving both shelter and comprehensive social services. The goal is to support them in stabilizing their lives and transitioning to permanent housing.

The project was granted a five-year conditional approval by the city of Fayetteville. A formal groundbreaking on the site of a former tent city took place April 12. The village is expected to be operational by wintertime.

The design combines individual weatherized sleeping units, a secure perimeter and a 150-foot-long "community porch" for shared services such as cooking, bathing and sanitation facilities. The community porch also provides gathering space and social work offices.

By aggregating shared services under one roof, the innovative design sidesteps normative zoning and building code requirements, Luoni said. The project relies on partnership with a host organization, in this case Serve Northwest Arkansas, and with a city to codify such workarounds.

The components of the village are designed for disassembly and reuse, avoiding the discard of material in a landfill, he said. The sleeping units and community porch are pre-fabricated off site, and they can be packed and transported to create a homeless transitional village in another area. The A-frame sleeping units can be resold for more than twice their original cost, creating a financial benefit, as well.

On-site construction is limited to wet assembly and site preparation for water supply, waste disposal, foundations and stormwater management. 

"We're solving for two important sustainable criteria," Luoni said. "The design is based on a progressive material life cycle, where project components are repurposed, and a social life cycle, where we're elevating social capital by encouraging self-governance, independence and networking among residents.

"We're using design to help people recover a more stable livelihood, both in terms of achieving more stable shelter and thriving through social networks and support," he said.

The Community Design Center project joins a handful of similar initiatives in states that include Oregon, Washington, Texas and Wisconsin. The ultimate goal is to enable legislation that would allow cities and non-governmental organizations to enact these "tiny home communities" without a lengthy permitting process.

With about 3 million people homeless across the United States each year - a number equivalent to Arkansas' total current population - it makes sense to consider the informal as an alternative, Luoni said.

"The uniqueness of the project is actually using the informal - the sector that's pushed aside and ignored - to hopefully change the formal," he said.

The New Beginnings project will be recognized at the 50th EDRA conference in Brooklyn, New York, on May 23. This is the Community Design Center's sixth award from the association.

The project will be published in the GOOD DESIGN Yearbook for 2018-2019 and exhibited in Europe, the United States and South America. This is the fourth time the center has won a Green GOOD DESIGN Award.

The project will also be featured in an upcoming issue of The Plan, an international magazine, along with the other Community Design Center projects recognized with PLAN awards. 

AuthorLinda Komlos

A communitywide effort, led in part by University of Arkansas faculty, is helping to address an issue that impacts thousands of Arkansans annually: homelessness.

The project, called "New Beginnings," is a bridge housing community. The effort is designed to be a self-managed community of low-cost housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness.

The initiative is led by Serve Northwest Arkansas, a nonprofit composed of community members dedicated to helping the Northwest Arkansas community through tangible acts of service.

New Beginnings is located on 4.7 acres of land on South 19th Street in Fayetteville, near 7Hills Homeless Center.

Finding ways the University of Arkansas can serve the community has long been a priority for Kevin Fitzpatrick, who serves on the board of Serve NWA.

As a University Professor and the Jones Chair in Community in the Department of Sociology and Criminology, Fitzpatrick is keenly aware of the many problems that gnaw at Northwest Arkansas but often go unnoticed — in particular the growing homelessness crisis.

The housing at New Beginnings is not meant to be permanent for residents, but is instead designed to provide a critical step toward full-time housing for people who have been chronically homeless and lack the skills and support to move forward.

"It's a catalyst for different thinking," Fitzpatrick said. "It's not, 'Let's respond by building a typical shelter or get them into an apartment.' What we're doing is responding to a problem that plagues a particular subgroup of the homeless population who need folks working on solutions to get them out of their unsheltered circumstances."

For people who have experienced chronic homelessness, moving directly into a home is not always a viable option.

"It's typically not out of the woods and into an apartment," Fitzpatrick said. "It's out of the woods and onto a pathway. We want that to be your end point, but it's probably not your starting point. We want to get people out of the woods and into a safe, secure, stable, clean environment to decompress and begin working on and thinking about a new lifestyle. It's not a snap-your-fingers kind of process. It's slow, with lots of bumps, traps, failures. But we're committed to this strategy for a really hard-to-address problem."

Individuals who have been homeless for an extended period of time often require additional resources beyond simply housing or financial support, Fitzpatrick said. Mental health issues, addiction and other medical problems are common among this population.

"They tend to be more complicated because of the complexity of what they bring to the table," he said.

As the project progresses, opportunities for different sectors of the university to participate will continue to grow, Fitzpatrick said.

"Moving forward, there are potential partnerships for agricultural, nursing, social work. You name it, we will have opportunities," he said. "Plus, there's will be the opportunity for just volunteering."

The project not only addresses an important community need — it also gives U of A students a chance to put to work what they're learning in the classroom.

"This is what we hear about life-changing results with medical schools that have street outreach programs that require residents or interns to do a month of rotation in that kind of setting," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm hoping at some point we get to a point where [the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences] can offer that as a way of engaging students with our clients."

Fitzpatrick said students enter his classes with a general awareness about homelessness, but they have little experience beyond that.

In addition to bringing together community partners, the project has been a catalyst for collaboration at the university. Faculty and students from the Department of Sociology, Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design have all played a role in the project.

"We want to be able to garner all the resources that a university like this has to address both the problems and the needs of a population, while at the same time giving students a unique opportunity to engage with a set of problems and a population that isn't part of the typical curriculum," Fitzpatrick said.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School, provided design work for the site.

For Steve Luoni, director and principal designer at the center, the project was a chance to approach community building from a new perspective. Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School.

"Since our mission is to promote creative development that enhances place in Arkansas through combined education, research and design solutions, New Beginnings challenged us to develop a different kind of neighborhood offering more than just shelter," Luoni said. "While we have extensive experience with all sectors of housing, including design of affordable housing, New Beginnings represents a housing solution based on cooperative forms of living that assists residents in re-establishing stability about their lives.

"Akin to a 'tiny home' community, New Beginnings triangulates shelter with wraparound social services and a self-governing community towards building greater independence," Luoni continued. "It's a neighborhood or camp for developing deep social capital far beyond what emergency shelters can offer."

In the College of Engineering, students in professor Ajay Malshe's undergraduate course in Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering studied the project and provided recommendations for everything from flooring to roof construction to indoor and outdoor flooring. Teams developed their recommendations based on their study of materials structure and design, properties, processing and manufacturing and applications.

About 70 undergraduate students participated in the project, and Malshe, a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and 21st Century Endowed Chair Professor, said it was an immersive learning experience designed for students to experience the real impact engineers can make in communities to improve the quality of life — particularly for marginalized groups.

"My goal as an instructor is, first, to bring this issue onto their radar," Malshe said. "Second, it's to make sure there is a formal vehicle for them to learn and take action. Teaming with Kevin was a great experience. He is highly motivating and a dedicated colleague for the cause, and I look forward to more cross-campus and cross-community projects for student learning, which will also be to the benefit of all Arkansans."

Malshe said he's found that today's students are increasingly interested in the societal impact of their work, locally and globally, and the best way to drive engagement is to have students experience how their work affects others by involving them in the local community.

It's a lesson Malshe said will serve students well in retaining knowledge, as well as in making a difference for fellow citizens through servant leadership.

"If you're going to solve a real engineering problem, you can't solve it in a cubicle," Malshe said. "You've got to immerse yourself in that environment mentally and physically."

Fitzpatrick said the project is also a prime example of how the university can work with local government leaders to make an impact at home.

"It's just a good relational connectedness between town and gown," Fitzpatrick said. "We're looking at ways to try to connect those two pieces through a project like this. The pieces don't fit perfectly, you've got to push some corners together. But the goal should be, 'What can we do?' And through my position as the endowed Jones Chair in Community, I am always asking: 'What can I do with the resources I have access to at the university to improve the lives of people in and around the university?' I've always looked at that as my responsibility. I've been driven by that goal for this project."

New Beginnings broke ground April 12 in south Fayetteville with support from the University of Arkansas, the city of Fayetteville, the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and a variety of other community partners.

Construction is expected to begin in May. Plans call for the community to be accepting residents in the early fall and be operational before the winter of 2019-20.

For more information, visit the New Beginnings bridge housing community online.

AuthorLinda Komlos

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center has received a national award for an architectural design studio that rethinks public housing in Fayetteville. The center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, worked with architecture students and the U of A Resiliency Center.

Architecture studio is a class in a professional architecture program in which students receive hands-on instruction in architectural design. Architecture students working in the design studio explored design strategies for revitalizing Willow Heights, a housing complex on the east edge of downtown Fayetteville.

The spring 2018 studio, “Saving Downtown Public Housing: Towards a Blended-Income Community,” won a 2018-19 Housing Design Education Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture/American Institute of Architects. The award recognizes the importance of good education in housing design. Winners were selected based on the positive impact on students, the university or the community.

Built as affordable housing in the mid-1970s, Willow Heights has been at the center of civic debate. The former leadership of the Fayetteville Housing Authority wanted to sell the property and relocate low-income residents to another housing complex farther away from downtown.

Other people wanted to revitalize the housing complex, thereby keeping residents within walking distance of downtown. The nonprofit Endeavor Foundation commissioned the Community Design Center to explore alternatives.

Student work completed in the design studio contributed to the “Livability Improvement Plan for Willow Heights,” a Community Design Center planning study adopted by the Fayetteville Housing Authority and the Fayetteville City Council in 2018.

The plan proposes development of a blended-income neighborhood through rehabilitation of existing units and construction of additional market-rate and subsidized units. The studio also addressed issues of stormwater management on the hillside site.

“Through the application of design thinking that addresses healthy neighborhood design, value capture – positioning the public sector to more profitably manage its assets – and social return on investment, the study identified redevelopment opportunities while keeping low-income residents in a centrally located neighborhood,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

Luoni is also a Distinguished Professor and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies at the university.

The planning study offers three scenarios ranging in cost and complexity. The simplest one builds new housing on the flat part of the site, while the other two options cut into the hillside, requiring different levels of terracing and engineering.

Students worked in three teams to develop the new housing, while Community Design Center staff designed the renovations. The Resiliency Center, an interdisciplinary sustainability initiative hosted by the Fay Jones School, addressed stormwater management for the site.

Students grappled with a number of challenges as they worked on the scenarios, Luoni said. Site challenges include narrow right-of-ways, mature hillside trees that need to be preserved, chronic flooding and limited emergency access.

Students met with the Fayetteville Housing Authority, the city fire marshal, Willow Heights residents and other consultants as they adapted their plans to meet these needs.

Another kind of challenge came in balancing innovation and modernization with the legacy nature of the housing complex.

“How does a designer create compatibility with both the buildings that are there and the streets that are there, while also providing something of the present time?” Luoni asked. “That’s always the big existential struggle of working with the rehabilitation of a project.

“Students had to wrestle with a set of intentions from 40 years ago that are in place. Whatever they proposed had to be compatible with the site, but also exceed its shortcomings,” he said.

Like most housing projects of the mid-20th century, Willow Heights was designed as an isolated entity, with little or no connection to surrounding streets and neighborhoods, Luoni said. The three scenarios invert that logic, bringing new housing to the edge of the site and connecting the development with the streets around it.

“Part of the strategy of the new site planning was about making connections back to the neighborhood and enlivening the street,” Luoni said. “Understanding that good neighborhood design is part of the solution to good housing.”

New housing types include one-bedroom flats and a series of two- and three-bedroom townhouses in small clusters and long rows. The existing housing, which is still structurally sound, was enhanced by the addition of covered walkways and garden patios and by highlighting the difference between front and back entrances.

The biggest challenge in multi-family housing is designing for pattern while providing some variety, Luoni said. “You’re taking a unit and reproducing it, in this case 40 or 50 times, but you don’t want it to look like a barracks. How do you standardize something, yet provide variety? That’s why housing is so hard.”

The design studio gave students valuable experience in both housing design and site rehabilitation, Luoni said. He estimated that some 80 percent of future design work will be in the rehabilitation and preservation of existing building sites and infrastructure.

The proactive blended-income model proposed by the planning study allows the city to profitably manage its assets while creating a healthy neighborhood through social return on investment, Luoni said.

“It’s an example for the region of what public housing can be,” said Luoni, who also serves on the regional housing steering committee convened by the Walton Family Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

This is the Community Design Center’s seventh ACSA/AIA Housing Design Education Award in the program’s 12-year history.

The U of A studio was one of three collegiate programs or projects this year to win the award. Award-winners will be featured at the 107th annual meeting of the ACSA, planned for March 28-30 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

AuthorLinda Komlos